I spent the latter half of July 4th ablaze, brightening the bedroom well into the night with my rouged red, sunburned skin. Painful, to be sure, but also a fine excuse to avoid do little else but read. By book of choice for the afternoon was William Gass’ hyper-experimental paean to language itself, or maybe of language to itself, Willie Master’s Lonesome Wife. — “Imagine the imagination imagining,” he repeats several times. — Unsurprisingly, I loved it. It is in a sense a 20th-century reworking of Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde (described memorably by somebody as an “ideational erection”), which very nearly derailed my doctoral thesis once upon a time. (It remains uncertain to this day whether the tragedy was its near-success or its failure to do so.) I’ve long expressed a vague desire to write an epic erotic poem, mostly because I know the title already, Frottage, so works like Willie Master’s Lonesome Wife and Lucinde are, as they say, in my wheelhouse.
There is, I know, something romantically gooey, and, god knows, probably ideologically <ominous music> dangerous</ominous music>, about sexualizing the imagination. And yet, wiping the goo from my lips and picking the danger from my teeth, are not most indulgences rarely healthy in the strictest sense but eminently so in flagrante?
I myself believe that the true kiss comprises a secret exchange of words, for the mouth was made by God to give form and sound to syllables; permit us to make, as our souls move, the magical music of names; for to say Cecilia, even in secret, is to make love. How could the gentlest tremor our lips cause a weakening of limbs, surrender in Samson, if they did not compose a communiqué of passion? Consequently, since our thoughts are words in motion, our memories reserves, our reason regulations for their good and strong employment, the lips that lend expression to the mouth, and the mouth that gives them tongue, empower our mind, and send it larger to the world. Henceforth, my intercourse of lips, already a well conceived synecdoche for sex, should be further and more completely understood to be a sweet conclave of heads, and a kind committee in meeting.
I declare, the same goes for manifestos! The joy is in their construction and recitation; considerably less so in living by, or, perish the thought, dying by, them. To this end, I will here recite what I take to be a good and noble manifesto, as good as any, better than most.
Then let us have a language worth of our world, a democratic style where rich and well-born nouns can roister with some sluttish verb yet find themselves content and uncomplained of. We want a diction which contains the quaint, the rare, the technical, the obsolete, the old, the lent, the nonce, the local slang and argot of the street, in neighbourly confinement. Our tone should suit our time: uncommon quiet dashed with common thunder. It should be as young and quick and sweet and dangerous as we are. Experimental and expansive—venturesome enough to make the chemist envy and the physicist catch up—it will give new glasses to new eyes, and put those plots and patterns down we find our modern lot in. Metaphor must be its god now gods are metaphors. It should not be too cowardly of song, but show its substance, sing its tunes so honestly and loud that even eyes can hear them, and contrive to be a tongue that is its own intoxicant. Full of the future, cruel to the past, this time we live in is so much in blood and possibility and dangerous chance, so mixed with every color, life and death, the good and bad, homogenized like milk in everything we think—new men, new terrors, and new plans—that Alexander now regrets his love of drink; Elizabeth, that only Queen, paws for her wig to seek employment; and the swift Achilles runs against his death to be here. It’s not the languid pissing prose we’ve got, we need; but poetry, the human muse, full up, erect and on the charge, impetuous and hot and loud and wild like Messalina going to the stews, or those damn rockets streaming headstrong into stars.
We are, all of us, disastrously dying in some form or other. For the time being, which is all time is after all, in the first and final instance, we have life and its many languages. Were we to inhabit one, either/or, really, we may well the other.